It was the early 20th-century architectural movement that defined German style for decades, but Bauhaus is about far more than graphic design and boxy buildings; it has also become one of the most prolific sources of inspiration in fashion.
Staatliches Bauhaus – or just Bauhaus – was one of Europe’s most prominent art schools. Founded in Weimar in 1919 by German architect Walter Gropius, it saw some of the country’s most talented architects, graphic designers and artists pass through its doors. After moving from Weimar to Dessau and finally Berlin, the school closed in 1933, but the influence of the movement it helped to create is still in evidence today, with places such as Berlin’s Bauhaus-Archiv/Museum für Gestaltung – which exhibits many famous works of art and architecture and provides a comprehensive history – helping to create new generations of fans.
Elements of Bauhaus survive in modernist architecture, revered by design enthusiasts the world over; the design principles of the movement are also present in contemporary fashion, where designers have found inspiration in Bauhaus’s modernist functionality.
All about the angles
Geometric prints have long been a fashion staple, but recent years have seen them gain prominence among top designers. Geometric and mathematically exact angles, shapes, repetition and interplay are all Bauhaus signatures that have been reinterpreted by modern-day fashion houses. In recent seasons, central motifs and bold patterns have played a large part in menswear and womenswear collections from around the world.
In 2013, Italian label Iceberg showcased Bauhaus-inspired kinetic patterns and bold geometric designs in a palette of punchy primary colours throughout its menswear collection. Similarly, Peter Pilotto’s autumn/winter 2014/15 womenswear collection featured strong angled patterns and interconnected shapes in block colours – strongly reminiscent of Bauhaus construction – across form-fitting turtle-necked sweaters and wide-legged trousers.
For spring/summer 2015, two German labels have taken Bauhaus-inspired design to new heights, reinterpreting the shapes, architectural structure and patterns of the movement to create fluid, serene and strikingly beautiful womenswear collections.
Jil Sander’s spring/summer 2015 collection faultlessly combined two design principles that many consider polar opposites: practical functionality and feminine grace. Belted, wide-cut culottes worn with three-quarter-length-sleeved cashmere jumpers over crisp white cotton shirts led the way in functionality. Femininity came from sweatshirts with blown-out shoulders and ruched sleeves, matched with wide-legged, straight-cut trousers, all with razor-sharp pleats, creating a clash between playful and grounded silhouettes that echoes the interplay of straight lines and curves seen in many Bauhaus masterpieces.
Even so, it’s not just the silhouettes used in Jil Sander’s collection that are reminiscent of the Bauhaus movement; the monochromatic kinetic prints, which feature prominently throughout the collection on sweatshirts, skirts and blouses, are unmistakably derived from it. The collection’s muse was Annemarie Schwarzenbach, a Swiss writer and photographer who lived in Berlin during the early 1930s while the Bauhaus school was in residence, when its influence was at its peak and functional modernity was the height of fashion.
Inside the lines
Similarly, quintessentially German designer label Hugo Boss turned to Bauhaus for its spring/summer 2015 womenswear collection. This season, Boss Woman’s offering consists of two-piece tailoring, pinafore dresses and pencil skirts, all featuring abstract geometric and angular prints. The inclusion of boxy jackets, sheer panelled pleats and shimmering fabrics catches the eye, but the collection’s design focus is set squarely on straight lines and right angles.
Belted coat dresses in a geometric print hitting just above the knee, featuring exaggerated sleeves and stiff collars, paired with gladiator sandals with leather straps winding up to sit just below the hemline create an aesthetic focused on angles, interconnected shapes and lines – all key elements of the Bauhaus style.
However, it is Boss Woman’s statement piece for this season that best encapsulates Bauhaus’ influence over contemporary fashion: the boxy leather jacket with right-angled epaulettes and square leather panelling in concrete grey, with highlighted white collar and small circular white popper buttons, perfectly reflects the architectural style signatures of the Bauhaus movement.
While the influence of Bauhaus – arguably Germany’s greatest contribution to architecture – is still evident in modern construction, it is clear that the movement has had an enduring impact on fashion, allowing designers to combine functionality and style in a way that could only be derived from German design.